As reported by the New Britain Herald, November 21, 2004.

Bone Density Study to Help NASA, UConn

By Tricia Stuart

One hundred sixty women are needed for a NASA-funded study on bone density and frailty at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

Dr. Anne Kenny, geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Connecticut Health Center, is heading the study.

Bone density loss in aging is similar to bone density loss in space travel. The study will help NASA but it will also help to answer some questions about aging.

"Frailty is so understudied. I want to improve the quality of life in older individuals," said Kenny.

"[Frailty] is not well defined. People loose reserves in all of the body systems, the immune system, in bones, and in muscles," said Kenny.

Kenny said an 80 year old takes longer to heal. There is also a negative energy spiral when the patient is bedridden, doesn’t get any exercise, and there is loss of appetite. Muscle loss is a main contributor to this.

"Walking speed is a big piece of whether you will go to a nursing home. Hand grip strength is a predictor of mortality and disability," she said.

Kenny’s focus is on muscle loss with aging and intervention to stop or slow down the same loss. She’s also focusing on the gateway to make an impact to stop the frailty syndrome.

"The work has been on the effects in the loss of testosterone in men and women," she said.

DHEA may be efficacious in slowing the loss of testosterone.

"We know exercise will stop or slow down muscle loss and bone loss," she said.

DHEA is a natural chemical in the body; it is a mild testosterone or estrogen, but it works much like testosterone which helps muscles develop properly, also helping the bones. Both men and women have testosterone, estrogen, and DHEA. Testosterone is predominately in men; estrogen is mostly in women. Natural DHEA is derived from the adrenal gland. The DHEA supplement is chemically engineered. As we age, we lose DHEA.

Kenny would like to compare the increase of bone density through different exercises, such as weight bearing exercise, walking and yoga. She also wants to test the different combinations of exercises with and without DHEA, and also with a DHEA placebo. The test method, known as a double-blind test, is the true indicator of whether a treatment works.

"The people who come to the study have to be able to do either walking or yoga or nothing for 6 months. Most people lose about one-half of a percent of muscle mass and muscle strength per year on average as they age, after age 35. But there are always exceptions." said Kenny.

Kenny wants to know if DHEA supplements will slow the loss.

"Seventy percent of people will drop below the normal. We aren’t sure why. Previous studies have looked at healthy people or didn’t have a blinded test. Does exercise help DHEA to be helpful? Strength training helps muscles and bones but it hasn’t been tested for balance," she said.

Previous studies haven’t used double-blind tests or have been tested on healthy people.

"DHEA has been touted by all sorts of natural health people but it hasn’t been fully studied," she said.

DHEA is considered one of the elixirs of youth.

"It may work, but I want to see. Those people who go to the health food store who are 70 are probably healthy anyway so it didn’t help them anyway. This is why I want to study frail people, to see if it actually helps," Kenny said.

Studies are free to participants and will include an exercise program twice a week for 6 months, DHEA or a placebo, bone strengthening, cholesterol screening, strength assessment, bone density and balance, blood work, and tests of the immune function.

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